11 MARCH 1995, Page 48

Office life

Company car crisis

Holly Budd

My company car is a six year-old Rover and we have shared 50,000 content- ed miles. I chose it because of its shape and feel and because it was British. With the recent sale of Rover, I might just as well have had the BMW I hankered after, but never mind: there is no car like a company car, whatever it is.

Two or three years ago they tried to make me get a new one. It was financial sense; they said, good for the company's image and I could have something more expensive. I resisted; we were in the midst of sacking people and to have accepted the keys to a lavishly unnecessary new toy would have neither looked nor felt right. Like many beneficiaries of company cars, I can do my job perfectly well without.

Recently they tried again, telling me that mine is the oldest car in the fleet. We're no longer sacking people, thank goodness, so I could plead only attachment to my faithful Rover. I'm not interested in cars, I'm used to the one I've got and like never having to think about it. Why change?

Well, T weakened and agreed. They insisted that a new and expensive car was appropriate to my newly-promoted status. The world of commerce hangs upon my automotive taste. Mind you, the financial advantages are not what they were. This lit- tle act of corporate extravagance will cost me £3,000 a year in tax and I'll have to cer- tify an annual company mileage. If I want gimmicky extras I'll suffer (not their word) an additional 'salary sacrifice'. Still, a com- pany car means no large and depreciating investment, no bills and no worry, though I'd love to see the motor-men's faces if it was banned and they had to persuade us to open our own wallets and purses.

I've therefore wasted considerable time inspecting or driving various extravagances, to all but one of which I was indifferent. The major makes are all, I'm sure, very good, but so is my Rover and none of them does anything significantly different. The salesmen began with performance figures then switched to 'family space', an equal dead loss with me. They then all said the same things about reliability, safety, anti- theft and anti-pollution measures, I confess I rather liked the smaller brand of Mer- cedes for its solid feel and relative plainness, more aesthetically pleasing than the clut- tered plastic frippery of most others, but I didn't like the pushy salesman who kept say- ing he wanted to get me into one.

My one serious question was why do cars have to look like cars, especially the interi- ors with their awful seats? Why can't there be armchairs with decent material? I got no serious answer. My one serious tempta- tion was the Jaguar. It was beyond my price range but I drove it anyway, mainly because I never had. It was divine; other cars you merely drive, in this you waft in a sensual surround. What I should really like is a Jaguar and driver so that I could sit in the back and be wafted.

Decision day came and I still hadn't made up my mind. I suspected it would be the Mercedes, though I kept having adul- terous thoughts about the unattainable Jaguar. The man in Finance rang me before I rang him: 'Bad news, Holly. Our end-year figures are down and we're putting a freeze on new purchasing until the autumn, when they should pick up. No new car till then, I'm afraid.'

Back to Rover. Old friends are best.